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FF14 Dungeons, Take Two

This past week I ended up running the dreaded early dungeon gauntlet in FF14 again – you know, the three early dungeon Square Enix requires everyone to do in order to move the Main Story Quest forward. Things more or less went as well as last time.

The first dungeon run went comically bad. As soon as we zoned in, the healer just ran through half the dungeon and aggroed all of the mobs. This, of course, resulted in a wipe. The healer never rezzed themselves though, which is pretty indicative that his/her behavior was intentional trolling. Unfortunately, you cannot Vote Kick someone within X minutes of zoning into the dungeon, so we all had to wait.

Then it turned out that the healer and the other DPS voted to kick the tank, which happened to be frequent In An Age commenter, MaximGtB (who offered to help me through these early dungeons). It took me a while to figure out what even happened though, because FF14 does not allow you to Whisper or receive a Whisper while in a dungeon. And I did not know if there was an easy way to teleport out of a dungeon you were in.

So, yeah, comically bad.

After that, MaximGtB shepherded me through the three dungeons without major incident. In two of the dungeons, we had a Thaumaturge or Black Mage or whatever that insisted on using a knockback in their spell rotation, much to my Pugilist’s (and the tank’s) annoyance. It was also kind of annoying fighting 3-4 mobs at a time with zero AoE abilities. I suppose that might be a feature rather than a bug at this stage, as it would be easy for new players to spam that sort of thing and get aggro.

My overall impression about FF14’s dungeons have not really changed. There is zero reason for these early dungeons to be mandatory and/or exist. They are apropo of nothing. I don’t remember if Wailing Caverns had any lead-in, but other early WoW dungeons like Deadmines were the culmination of zone-wide storylines. That the devs required these three irrelevant dungeons for the MSQ simply boggles my mind. Mandatory is one thing, zero story is another.

In any event, further progress on my character will have to wait, as Square Enix is “moving data centers” and that apparently requires two full days of downtime. Which is almost enough time to be tempted to pop another WoW Token.

…think I’ll start Mass Effect: Andromeda instead.

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Social Dungeoneering

With Legion, I feel that Blizzard solved a major source of social friction and then almost immediately made it even worse than before.

As you may or may not know, by default LFD queues in Legion are Personal Loot, which neatly solves the long-standing issue of loot whore/ninjaing. But this also made it feel like nobody was getting any actual loot, so Blizzard added a big prompt notifying when other people won stuff. Of course, this highlighted those situations when someone won useless (to them) loot, and people started pining for the days when they could pass on/trade loot to each other. So Blizzard made the items tradable as long as you already had something with a higher ilevel in that slot.

This culminated in my recent Neltharion’s Lair run, wherein I won some lower ilevel gloves and missed the whispers from the healer after the penultimate boss. Hey, the chat box gets pretty full sometimes with the near non-stop narration, okay? Taking my silence as some sort of snub – or perhaps simply engaging in some vindictive blackmail – the healer simply stopped healing me. After eating dirt for a second time in front of the trash leading to the final boss, and getting emotes instead of a rez, I asked “Did I do something wrong? :(” assuming that I was not following some trash mechanic. “At last he speaks.” Ah, I see. I trade the gloves and received healing for the last fight.

This sort of convoluted situation has since occurred three more times in different contexts. Boss dropped a 825 helm and the Demon Hunter traded it to me, but seemed to almost regret his decision. “Are you really going to use that?” I suppose he was asking since I had the 2-piece set bonus from the Order Hall armor. Another time some gloves dropped and the winner asked who needed it, and two party members must have gotten in a furious whisper war, because the run stopped for a solid 2 minutes before something was hashed out.

Finally, I won some lower-ilevel wrists in my latest dungeon run, and basically spent the rest of the run trying to inspect our Bear tank to see if they were an upgrade to him. They were, I surreptitiously traded them to him instead of the Demon Hunter, and went on with my day.

Hey, remember when all of this was solved by hitting Need or Greed? I do.

Seriously though, if Blizzard is going to add all of this tradable Personal Loot nonsense, they should probably invest in an UI element that asks if you want to Pass on the loot. If you hit Yes, it should pop up a Need or Greed prompt for everyone. If you hit No, the item could still be tradable in case you want to give the item to a particular person without advertising or whatever. Done and done.

FFXIV Impressions: Dungeons

A little while ago I got the early dungeon wall that I heard people grumbling about back in the day: a point near level 20 where the Story quest gets gated around running three dungeons in a row. I spent an entire day’s session pushing through it like a particularly difficult bowel movement, with very similar end results.

FFXIV_Dungeon

Somehow they managed to make playing an Arcanist even more boring.

The first two dungeons were not actually that bad. Long, boring slogs through story-less gameplay, but whatever; I’m not sure Wailing Caverns performed much better when I played it six years ago. Then came Copperbell Mines. If I continue playing FFXIV, it will be in spite of my experience in this dungeon.

To be clear, it is not necessarily the dungeon’s fault. I assume Copperbell Mines is just as bland and flavorless as any other dungeon in this game. But within the first two pulls, I realized we were in trouble. The only non-new player was the healer, and it became very clear that 1) the tank had no clue how to hold aggro, and 2) the lancer had no concept of how dungeons or the holy trinity works at all. The lancer spent the entire dungeon running ahead, grabbing aggro, then running away once his HP hit 25%. While no one can expect a tank to completely take control of that, one can reasonably expect the tank to at least have higher aggro than the healer. Which he could not, to literally save his (and everyone else’s) life.

FFXIV has this reputation as a nice, friendly environment for noobs and such, but I feel that it let us down in this case. Friendly suggestions to not be fucking stupid (paraphrasing) did not reach the lancer, who might have been illiterate for all we know. Had this been WoW, either the lancer or tank or both would have been straight-up kicked (assuming no 4-hour timers) for not doing the goddamn jobs they signed up to do, but no no. It is our responsibility – nay, privilege! – to repeatably wipe with the classical stoic grace of British aristocracy. I summoned my tanking pet to at least give the healer an extra 15 seconds of life and largely went down with the ship with a stiff upper lip.

At the end of it, several things were very clear to me then:

  1. There was zero reason why those dungeons were mandatory for the story.
  2. There wasn’t any story to those dungeons at all. No background material, no Dead Mines-esque buildup.
  3. It was yet another “travel across the world three times sequentially” time-sink, after literally just finishing a similar one.
  4. I’m done waiting 15-20 minutes to play a game.
  5. I’m done waiting to play with bad players.

This attitude will, of course, put me at odds with the standard MMO appointment-gaming zeitgeist.

I was also struck with the realization of what FFXIV’s combat reminded me of: Aion. As in, a pretty world with great animation and bizarre old-school throwbacks combined with an awfully boring combat system. Again, I’m an Arcanist, so I’m sure that has something to do with it – Thaumaturge felt more exciting for the little I played of it. At the same time, I view FFXIV allowing me to pick a boring-ass class more of FFXIV’s problem, than my own.

In any case, my free month is up next week, so FFXIV has until then to convince me it has any redeeming factors at all. People keep going on about the story, but I can no longer tell if they mean an actual good story, or a good story in comparison to other MMOs. Either way, it has the aforementioned amount of time to get down to business if Square Enix wants to continue getting my own.

WoW Content Comparison

One of the relatively common criticisms of Warlords overall has been the lack of content in comparison to prior expansions. With 6.2 being confirmed as the last raiding tier and Blizzard rather adamantly opposed to creating new 5-man dungeons – despite them being “one of the greatest strengths of the genre” – I find it increasingly unlikely that a hypothetical 6.3 patch would include either. So what better time than now to offer some data to back up the claim?

For this part, I am taking all info from Blizzard’s own webpage:

Raids (Boss) Dungeons BGs (Arena) Other
Warlords of Draenor 3 (30) 8 0 (0) Garrisons?
Mists of Pandaria 5 (43) 9 3 (2) 18 Scenarios
1 Race/1 Class
Cataclysm 6 (31) 14 2 (0) 2 Races
World Revamp
Wrath of the Lich King 9 (54) 16 2 (2) 1 Class
The Burning Crusade 8 (44) 16 1 (3) 2 Races

If you found that I made a mistake somewhere in the calculations, let me know.

Otherwise… well, the results kind of speak for themselves, yeah? Cataclysm, hitherto the worst expansion in the game, was the closest to Warlords in terms of raid bosses. And yet it had six more dungeons, introduced two new Battlegrounds, two new races with entirely novel starting areas, and a complete revamp of the entire world. Perhaps not everyone necessarily wanted the old world revamp, but that still represented a rather insane amount of designer attention. The same sort of attention that has seemingly clocked out starting from Day 2 in Warlords.

Indeed, when you start thinking about it a bit deeper, the Warlords situation is even worse than first glance. The devs might have built eight dungeons, for example, but the dungeons were designed for no one to actually use them. I invite you to watch that mea culpa video from Ion Hazzicostas again, or perhaps for the first time. The TL;DR version is this reckoning:

Just to recap, Ion admitted to Blizzard screwing up Reputations, Apexis Dailies, endgame content in general, Professions, Garrisons, Dungeons, Demo Warlocks, requiring Disc Priests for serious raids, and that unfun ability rotations are intended.

I wanted to bring the above up again, just to point out that even if Warlords had a comparable amount of content to other expansions (it doesn’t), the base structure of the game denigrates the content that does exist. For example, suppose you want to include the ten Timerwalker Dungeons into the Warlords count for whatever reason, even though they are only actually available for a limited timeframe and aren’t even revamps of the originals. In that situation, I would argue that Warlords only has ten dungeons overall, since those ten Timewalker Dungeons are the only ones still relevant to anyone in the game (by dropping high-level gear). In contrast, even when you were progressing through ICC in Wrath, running Gundrak was useful in getting you Frost Badges and that much closer to a tier piece.

In a bizarre sense, Warlords is the result of Blizzard’s design working as intended. The devs have said for years that they wanted to get to a place where they could pump out faster expansions. And as players, we all agreed… but not to this. By “faster expansions,” we meant not waiting 12-14 months with zero content. Which, by the way, is still a very real possibility with Warlords.

Not Garrisons

One of the recurring themes across various forums concerning WoW’s shocking 2.9 million sub loss is “Garrisons did it.”

Garrisons offer too much convenience. So much that Draenor went from populated to empty in a few short months. Nerf garrisons. (+239)

On the surface level, it’s easy to agree. Everything in this expansion pivots around the Garrison, from the 2nd Hearthstone to its more centralized location, to the mission system, and beyond. And as many people have pointed out, Blizzard went from being worried about player housing siphoning people from the capital cities and sequestering them into instances to… encouraging players to stay in their instanced Garrisons. Why leave? There are no daily quest hubs or relevant reputation factions to farm, and grounded travel limits your vision to the immediate horizon.

But then Grumpy Elf made me realize what was actually missing:

5) Valor / Justice:

This is the biggest, single most missed thing in the game right now.  So much is connected to it that I imagine that you do not even realize it.  Valor was a carrot, one we kept chasing each and every week.  It was a motivator, something this game is lacking at the moment.

For any game of this type the key to success is to keep up running the wheel and points did that.  Be it valor to get the weekly cap or justice when you wanted to convert it to honor or buy heirlooms.  Collecting points was a good motivator.  It gave content repeatability.  At the moment you can hit 100 and really have absolutely no reason to do dungeons except to start the ring quest line but with valor, and associated valor gear, for a fresh dinged character it would once again be worth doing them, ring or not.

What’s the first thing you think about, in terms of casual content in MMOs? Raids? World PvP?

Or, you know, dungeons?

Grumpy Elf is absolutely correct here in pointing out that dungeons in this expansion are a joke. Why would you ever run them? You can bypass the gear check for LFR with crafted gear and questing, the former of which you can craft with… wait for it… Garrisons. And that’s what is going on: Garrisons replaced Dungeons. Where do you get raid-level gear this expansion, without having to raid? From your Garrison. Where did you get raid-level gear without raiding in every other expansion thus far? Dungeons. QED.

I can even see where Blizzard might have thought they were doing casuals a favor. Casual players are most likely DPS who were stuck with 40+ minute queues to do the one activity that allowed them character progression at the level cap. LFR certainly gave them a bigger target to aim for, but that’s only once a week. Dungeons were every day. The current system is also really good for alts, as who has time for multiple 40+ minute queues, right?

Well… it was a bridge too far.

The other possibility, which is really more alarming, is simply the lack of content, period:

  • No new races
  • No new classes
  • No new battlegrounds
  • No new capital cities
  • No new profession
  • Remaining professions gutted
  • Farahlon cut
  • Tannan pushed back to 6.2
  • BRF pushed back from launch
  • Ashran is a complete failure
  • No daily hubs
  • No reputation factions to work for rewards
  • Only five new leveling zones (Shadowmoon and Frostfire are basically faction specific)

The original post is too large to quote in its entirety here, but “TiredOfYourShit21” makes an unassailable argument that WoD quite literally has less content than any other expansion ever released. And this time Blizzard doesn’t even have the moral excuse of Cataclysm, where people kinda forgot about the all the new 1-60 content when doing their calculations. For Warlords, expansion price went up, content went down. Maybe, maybe you can argue that the new character models represented a lot of “effort capital” that would have otherwise gone into the game elsewhere. But the truth is more likely that all that effort went into the Garrison instead of dungeons or anything else.

I dunno. I’m still playing for now, but it’s definitely more in the sense of completing a Bucket List than anything else.

Huge Wildstar Elder Content Nerf

Welp, time to pack it in, cupcake. Wildstar had a good run, a solid 24 days of hardcoreness before it was nerfed to the ground:

Based on the feedback we’ve been getting both from you and our own internal testing, we are planning on making revisions to the way Superb-quality loot is awarded in dungeons and adventures. Simply put, we currently place too much value on completing gold runs for veteran level content. By placing Superb-quality rewards behind a gate of near-perfect PUG performance, we have fostered a “Gold runs or bust” mentality that is negatively affecting our group play experience. We’d much rather people engage with the content and complete the runs they start.

Therefore, we will soon be implementing the following changes:

  • The existing gold medal rewards are being removed from gold medal completion.
    • These rewards will instead drop off the final bosses or encounters for dungeons and adventures.
    • The table from which this loot drops has a chance to be selected and is granted in addition to that bosses regular loot.
  • Any medals earned instead will instead give the group bonus rolls on an instance-wide loot list, at the end of the instance, on top of extra coin and experience rewards.
    • By way of example, completing a bronze medal would provide one bonus reward roll on top of the regular boss kill and completion reward, while a silver medal would provide two bonus rolls and a gold medal would provide three bonus rolls.
    • The items on these rolls are randomly selected from all equipment rewards that could drop from any boss or encounter inside that instance.
    • Each of these bonus rolls has a smaller, flat chance to select from the list of superb rewards.

We want groups to complete full runs of the dungeons and adventures, regardless of the medal earned. Instead of needing to disband immediately when a gold run fails, the Superb-quality rewards are available by working together to get through the instance.

Simply put: if your group runs Veteran Sanctuary of the Swordmaiden, all you need to do to earn a shot at Superb-quality loot is defeat Spiritmother Selene. No more medal requirements!

If you have any more feedback for us, please post it. The devs are listening!

See? TO THE GROUND.

I, of course, am kidding. A large number of people in the same forum are not:

So much for this game being harder. Give everyone easy loot and the degree of difficulty goes way down.

i considder this a HUGEE Nerf. might aswell remove medals als you deleted the purpose of them completly by doing this. i thought loot needed to be earned not handed out the easy way.

not even 1 month and you are already giving in to the lesser player? i guess you guys aren’t as hardcore as you promised.

keep this up and considder yourself 1 player less who will play this *still awesome game* for now.. lets see what you guys start nerfing next.. pitty realy.

Is this a joke? Already giving in to people whining about not getting faceroll epics? I thought this game was going to be rewarding if you did something extraordinary. You just killed the purpose of the medal system.. Why would you run for gold now? Even though people dont care to admit it, an important aspect of any mmorpg is the e-peen. If you cant show of your shiny nice epic that you working really hard for, only to see some careless nab with too much time, having the same item only with better sockets.. Come on Carbine, really? Im dissapointed.

The system was fine. Learn not to give in to spoiled players who doesnt wanna work hard to be equally well rewarded.

Pugs and challenging content are just not compatible.  I remember a 100 page thread on WSC back when Carbine first announced the LFD tool where everyone complained that the tool would lead to easy content.  Carbine assured us that they would not nerf content to appease whiners.

Now here we are less than a month into the game and Carbine has already folded.  Watching this whole dungeon fiasco unfold I thought there were 2 possible options:

1. Give us a new grouping tool to make same-server groups and elimate all the horrible behavior that the anonyminity of LFD provides
2. Nerf content

They took the easy way out, and I have zero doubt that as l2p said, this is only the beginning of turning this game into another braindead MMO that requires zero thought or skill.

One thing I will agree with the last quote above, is that PUGs and challenging content are not compatible. Or more specifically, LFD systems and challenge are not compatible. It is not about catering to casuals per se – you can desire as hard a game as possible – it is about the immutable fact that if the LFD system does not result in a successful run more than half the time at a minimum, the LFD system itself will fail. Kinda weird to think about it now, but there were some of us there at the start of the LFD revolution, and watched this truism develop in real-time.

Has it really only been three years? Indeed it has.

I will be honest in saying that I am rather surprised by Carbine’s… generosity in this regard. Until 20 minutes ago, I believed the simplest, most likely solution would have been to disable the Medal system when using the LFD tool. Because let’s face it, the real problem here were toxic morons who believed that they were entitled to skilled strangers pulled randomly from a dozen servers. That’s right, I said it. “Casuals” are entitled to the same thing every gamer is entitled to: content tailored to their skill level. Gold medal runs are not it… but Bronze runs? Yeah, those could work. And yet here we were, the “hardcore” babies throwing a tantrum, dropping groups or kicking noobs because they couldn’t get what they wanted. I don’t blame the hardcore crowd for rationally determining that a non-Gold run isn’t worth their time. I blame them for going into the LFD queue expecting anything more than a completed run.

As I said, Carbine is being generous here. And subtle. The “bonus rolls” were a nice touch insofar as it provides a glimmer of hope to those whom were looking for a specific item a given boss failed to drop. I think most of us have experienced dungeon runs in WoW where the tank or healer drops immediately after not getting the loot they hoped for. Indeed, I would advise Blizzard to implement this selfsame thing for WoW immediately. I shouldn’t have to, given that WoW already does this in LFR, but you know how it goes.

In any case, this is excellent news whether you are on the train, or looking at the tracks from afar with anticipation. Hey, don’t look at me like that. It isn’t schadenfreude, it’s science. A testing of a hypothesis. That’s the thing about reinventing the wheel though: it almost always ends up having the same rounded corners.

Street CREDD

Wildstar’s EVE-like CREDD system is currently and unexpectedly active. Current price on my server? About 200g (or 2p, but that doesn’t feel as impressive).

Accurate as of today.

Accurate as of today.

There was a huge Architect nerf the day after I posted my guide, which reduced the vendor price of Decor by 40% (I did update it though). Apparently my bulletproof Challenge strategy was small potatoes compared with people earning +20p by vendoring decor crafted with below-vendor prices of ore/wood dumped by gatherers. On the one hand, I understand the need to not break the economy. On the other hand… 10 CREDD is $150 that I just missed out on.

It is an open question whether I would be playing Wildstar 10 months from now anyway. The truth is that I don’t know. Yesterday, I played it all day. Guys, I can’t even remember the last time I played one game for the entirety of my free time after work. Well, obviously, it was probably WoW, but still! Even though I think I prefer having a few small games that I work on each day, there isn’t much that can beat that feeling of delighting in bodily immersing yourself in a game.

"Challenge complete" is the sound of my addiction.

“Challenge complete” is the sound of my addiction.

And yet I am only level 18. I haven’t bothered with Adventures or even reading up on Dungeons, as I’m getting enough horror stories vicariously from Reddit. My ex-WoW friends haven’t logged on in a few days which, if nothing else, indicates they are not as deep into the game as I am. But am I even in that deep? I’m mining, playing the AH, and doing circuits of housing Challenges every 30 minutes or so. That’s still good, right? I mean, other than the fact that that pretty much describes my pattern of behavior in my twilight WoW months.

My nominal Wildstar goal is to get enough gold to purchase CREDD before having to enter any credit card info. At the current price, I am about 25% of the way there. It is entirely possible that I won’t be able to keep up with the presumed increase in demand as the game nears its 30-day mark. Or maybe my long-shot decor listing at 1p apiece (I was the only person listing the items) will result in a CREDD purchase tomorrow. Or maybe look shiny shiny I wonder if my Challenges have reset?

Err… so yeah. That’s been this whole week.

Reinventing the Wheel

Other games have pretty much killed my attempt to slog through Guild War 2’s storyline, but I still rubberneck around the forums and dev posts with a sick sort of fascination. Some of their decisions make you wonder if they have been living under a rock for the last fifteen years of game design.

Hey everyone.

We are looking into an additional reward system to add to bosses so that killing a single boss feels a lot more rewarding than it does right now. We are gathering data internally on it and will release information on it as it gets closer to being implemented.

Being stuck at the last boss and unable to finish the dungeon thus receiving now reward is a terrible feeling for any player, hardcore or casual. We are looking to remedy this.

Iteration is the name of the game (source)

Hello, William Fairfield, Game Designer. Maybe bosses should, I dunno, have some loot associated with them instead of a chest filled with vendor trash to complement the same vendor trash we have been collecting from the hundred mobs we slaughtered on the way in? I think that worked in every MMO prior to this one.

We’re very aware our LFG system is lacking, an it’s high on our list of things to rework. We have some other very pressing issues to handle first, but as someone who built/runs dungeons, and often PUG them, I dislike our current obscure and non-informative system, and re-building it is high on my list of things-to-flail-my-arms-about-to-talented-people-who-can-do-something-about-it, so that they do something about it. (source)

Thank you, Robert Hrouda, Content Designer. You get 50 points for honesty. And lose 50 points for letting the game go Live with a LFG tool actually worse than the one WoW had six years ago.

[Nobody running Story modes anymore] is absolutely an issue as the game matures and we are working on ways to make running story mode with someone worthwhile even if you have already run it so players just reaching these dungeons can more easily find groups to play with. It will probably take some experimentation before we find the right motivator.

Jon (source)

Hello, Jon Peters, Game Designer. Perhaps if you did not nerf subsequent Story mode runs into the fucking ground, more people would do them? Your anti-botting protocols should already handle multiple playthroughs back-to-back, so… what was the point in such a huge reduction?

That last one really gets me. Think about it for a second. The pool of available players who have not yet ran the Story mode for a dungeon is always decreasing. That is a fact even if GW2 has increasing sales because, even ignoring server differentiation, the magnitude of new players coming in is unlikely to be higher than it was immediately after launch. The pool is always getting more shallow.

“No big deal,” I hear you say. “WoW dungeons have planned obsolescence the same way.” “Nein!” I say to you. GW2 auto-levels you down to match the dungeon mobs, which means you’ll always need a group; the longer you wait to start doing dungeons the less likely any such run will actually take place. Conversely, if I have some morbid curiosity about the story of Auchindoun Crypts in WoW after all these years, I could stroll in there with a max-level character and solo the place (barring any weird mechanics). And even if you manage to guilt four guild-mates into running a GW2 Story-mode for a second time, they are getting absolutely hosed for no goddamn reason.

Seriously, why? Oh, that’s right, there is some ridiculous fear about “farming.”

For the longest time, I could not understand why all the posts on the GW2 forums were talking about farming, diminishing returns, botting, anti-farm code, and so on. Why is this such a uniquely critical problem to GW2? Then it hit me. “You have entered too many instances lately.” Blizzard has instance caps and lockouts. PROBLEM SOLVED. Maybe I should be giving ArenaNet some credit for letting people run the same Farmable Explorable Mode as many times as they want in a day… but honestly? All this backhanded DR and anti-farm mechanics cheapens the lipstick on the pig.

I have never truly appreciated Blizzard’s methodology of instance design until seeing the alternative. People can complain about Reputation and daily quests as chores, but it is better than the wink-n-nod alternative of “we KNOW you are going to grind your face off, so let’s treat you like the little farming bots you are.” The equivalent would be for Blizzard to have removed the 25 daily quest cap (like they already did) but mathed out a decreasing reward slope to “enforce” a 25-daily limit. I do not feel that is actually any more humane, and it comes across as patronizing as well. It is the Skinner Box without the box; just some dude in a lab coat fondling your nucleus accumbens until you collapse.

If limits are necessary – and there are good arguments that limits are indeed necessary to save us from ourselves – then just give us the goddamn limits and call it a day. You can do A once per day, and B once per week. Done. This whole “do whatever you want… except that, and that too, and maybe you should go outside for a while, eh?” is just dumb. It all ends up making more rules, not less.

GW2 Checkpoint: Month 1

One of the best 1-month reviews I have read is Julian’s over on KTR. Not so much for the content of the review, but rather for evoking that sort of hollow feeling that I find Guild Wars 2 gives off.

Guild Wars 2 is like bungee-jumping without the cord. It is all fun and excitement on the way down, but there isn’t anything that snaps back and keeps you in the experience.

A lot of the reviews I have been reading (save one) do not do much in the way of differenciating between the game and the MMO aspect. From a game aspect, sure, it will give you more than a 2:1 return on hour of entertainment per dollar. If you are looking for a one-month stand, so to speak, by all means GW2 is your girl. In fact, with all the dynamic events and no-strings attached spontaneous grouping, it is practically a swinger’s paradise.

If instead you are looking for an MMO you can develop a relationship with, one that both allows investment and a perceived return for time spent, you are still basically stuck with pandas or space trolls.¹

But let me zero in on a couple of areas, including the ones I called out pre-launch.

Hearts/Questing

A lot of people talk about the freedom aspect of GW2 questing, of spontaneity. And it is true. But it is a freedom derived from walking around not giving a shit.

It still boggles my mind how little press the complete elimination of quest text has gotten. I have talked about this before, but a month in, these Hearts feel worse than the most banal of WoW’s daily quests. I do not care if you never read quest text anyway, the point is that a writer/designer still had to at least go through the motions. Where are the motions here?

Have you even tried talking to these Renown Heart guys? The dialog interface is awful, and outside of Gravedigger Dumpy, it all feels like it was written by an accountant. Has anyone actually encountered a coherant narrative in the Renown Hearts? I haven’t. And what I mean is have you actually been interested in what is going on beyond the strict gameplay elements introduced? Do you remember any of the NPC names?

This is not about “location-based” questing, this is about questing without context. And if you have filled one meter, you have filled them all.

I have not reached the conclusion of the Story quests, so I shall reserve final judgment on them. But to be honest, most of what I have seen has been phoned in. Story mission difficulty oscillates between trivial and broken, the tone of the narrative is all over the place (one minute everyone is Lawful Good Looney Toons villains, and the next we torture/kill in cold blood), and I have seen no indication that this story is any different than every “dragon terrorizes the land” story ever made. Including and especially the one presented in Cataclysm, which I suppose is unfortunate timing on ArenaNet’s part.

Dynamic Events

As I said last time around:

If anyone in-game talks about Events a month after launch, it will solely be in the context of “Where do I level now?” and “Where are all the Events?” and “I’ve been waiting for X Event to spawn for six minutes now!” and “Lame, the Waypoint I wanted to use is contested.” Events are not Guild Wars 2′s killer app. Events are fun the first time, promote spontaneous grouping in the immediate area, and technically have branching paths, I guess.

Events also scale horribly with a lot of people (melee in particular get hammered by dozens of instantly spawned +2 level mobs), are boring the 2nd/3rd/nth time around, interfere with normal questing/exploring in the area (yay, 20 kobolds just spawned in this cave again), are not easy to find or fun to wait around for, and become just plain tedious when completed alone. Regardless of how successful or not GW2 does sales-wise, it will not take but a few weeks for the playerbase to diffuse across the leveling/zone spectrum, making the outdoor-raid-esque feel of beta Events turn into the Warhammer’s “Forever Alone” Public Quest ghost towns.

At a minimum, I try to complete the Daily Achievement during my play session, which requires 5 Events. For every day of the prior week, I have had to cheese the achievement by logging onto an alt and flailing about in the rapidly reseting starting zone Events because I simply did not encounter five working Events in 2 hours of level 50-60 gameplay. When non-bugged Events do spawn, a handful of people usually appear out of the ether, but the mood is more akin of starving dogs swarming over table-scraps than “oh, hey, here’s another one of those things which the leveling system is supposedly built around.”

Which is just as well in the scheme of things, because the majority of Events are worse than the Renown Hearts under close scrutiny. Kill X waves of Y monster. Pick up Z items and return. Aaaaaaaaand that’s it. Maybe I am doing the wrong Events? If so, go ahead and tell me where I can find these good “Dynamic” Events and how long I would have to wait in that general area to trigger them.

WvWvWvWvWpppfffft

Is there anyone who is playing GW2 who feels like WvW was designed/executed properly? Anyone?

What I will grant is there are a lot more Waypoints than there was in the beta, making the graveyard slog not as bad. And it is nice that they are dropping the bags of loot from dead players at your feet now instead of asking you to drop down from the castle walls to collect your tokens. Then again… why are you asking players to furiously press F as they dodge and strafe in the press of the zerg, with people dying left and right? Is it a cynical design ploy to help throttle the volume of items generated in these encounters, since X% of legitimately earned items inadvertently go unclaimed?

Dungeons

Ho boy. I have completed two thus far, and… I am going to save my descriptions of them (and hopefully the others) for a future post.

By the way, I spent 45 minutes trying to get a party together for Twilight Arbor story-mode two days ago. As in, I was apparently incapable of getting four other random people grouped together. Is the lack of a LFG tool really a boneheaded mistake that every game designer is going to have to make from now on? Because let me tell you, limiting your LFG “tool” to self-flagged people only in that map is bullshit design that should have been laughed out of the office in 2012. Dungeons were already going to be a niche activity no matter what ArenaNet did, but to further drain the available pool down to “someone with an hour to kill, who hasn’t done the Story mode yet, who happens to be on a level 30/40/50+ character in a level 1-15 zone for some goddamn reason, who specifically replies to map chat requests” is beyond asinine.

With free server transfers, cross-server guilds, multiple guilds, and anonymous grouping, “saving the server community” is not even remotely a legitimate concern.

MMO Aspects Aside…

As a single-player game, it is probably worth your $60. Combat is nowhere near as responsive as WoW, character progression basically ends at level 30, and of course there is no endgame. But what Guild Wars 2 does succeed at is simulating an MMO without all that messy commitment. Which is kind of a shame considering how it succeeds in providing incentives for cooperation that most real MMOs curiously lack altogether, or feel necessary to induce via the threat of pain and loss.

In any case, we will just have to check in two months from now and see where things are heading into the holiday season. I am asking Santa for an actual LFG tool in GW2 and for Blizzard to tweak/remove the rather archaic-seeming mob tagging mechanic, myself.

¹ Yeah, yeah, or Tolkein, or rift chasing, or whatever else you are playing long-term.

If Guild Wars 2 Succeeds, It Will Be In Spite Of…

With there being just ten days until the prepaid preordered preliminary prelaunch, I figure now is about as good a time as any for a damp GW2 blanket. Not really cynicism for cynicism’s sake, but because there is a bit too much irrational exuberance in the comment sections of otherwise reasonable skepticism. When people start suggesting an MMORPG without a endgame will be fine because MOBA or Counter-Strike, it is time to grab the hose.

And lest anyone forget, the following predictions are based on my experience in all three of the beta weekend events – feel free to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and/or Part 4 for a recap, or just read everything in the GW2 Category for the full experience. I already paid my $60, I am going to be there on the 25th (assuming the servers are up), so it is not as though I want GW2 to fail. I just personally believe that if GW2 succeeds, it will be in spite of…

1. Dynamic Events

Seriously, folks, “Dynamic” Events (hereafter Events) are one of the most over-hyped, under-performing features since WoW voice chat. If anyone in-game talks about Events a month after launch, it will solely be in the context of “Where do I level now?” and “Where are all the Events?” and “I’ve been waiting for X Event to spawn for six minutes now!” and “Lame, the Waypoint I wanted to use is contested.” Events are not Guild Wars 2’s killer app. Events are fun the first time, promote spontaneous grouping in the immediate area, and technically have branching paths, I guess.

Events also scale horribly with a lot of people (melee in particular get hammered by dozens of instantly spawned +2 level mobs), are boring the 2nd/3rd/nth time around, interfere with normal questing/exploring in the area (yay, 20 kobolds just spawned in this cave again), are not easy to find or fun to wait around for, and become just plain tedious when completed alone. Regardless of how successful or not GW2 does sales-wise, it will not take but a few weeks for the playerbase to diffuse across the leveling/zone spectrum, making the outdoor-raid-esque feel of beta Events turn into the Warhammer’s “Forever Alone” Public Quest ghost towns.

You do not even have to have played the beta to understand any of this. Just explain out loud, to yourself, how and why Events are going to be fun for you. Do you sound convincing? For bonus points, elaborate how you figure Events are supposed replace traditional quests as the bulk of GW2’s PvE system.

2. WvWvWvWvWpppfffft

I understand that there will probably be some sort of dedicated segment of the playerbase that thinks WvW is the best thing since Isle of Conquest. And they will be correct, it is an improvement on Isle of Conquest in almost every way!

WvWvWow, Isle of Conquest

Other things better than Isle of Conquest include: stepping on a nail, papercuts on your knuckles, Miley Cyrus’ haircut.

I can honestly say that I do not see the appeal of PvWall. It was fun using a cannon to shoot down a constant stream of anonymous damage against massed chumps, but I would be hard pressed to recall a time when being said chump in a rain of frames-per-second-crushing pain was at all what I wanted to do.

And did you see the screenshot I posted way back in the first beta weekend? Here, let me bring it to your attention again:

Yo dawg, I heard you like “world” in your world pvp, so…

If you zone in with 8-10 friends, or even a small group, I can maybe see it being a nice diversion to go kill a bunch of NPC guards at one of the random outposts and otherwise inflicting maximum annoyance. But knocking on a wall and then killing a Keep Lord and then losing said keep a few hours later after you turn in for the night when the West coast PvP guild logs on? And god help you if you want to do WvW below level 80 – you get leveled up to 80, but neither your gear nor your skills are leveled likewise. I imagine we will all get pretty adept at playing Angry Birds one-handed as we navigate the 2.25 minute graveyard run for the millionth time.

Did all this work in DAoC? I dunno, I’ll take your word for it. Then again, a lot of shit worked ten years ago. Like subscription-based games, amirite?

3. Flat Endgame

I only today ran across these two Youtube videos that answered one of my fundamental questions of what happens at endgame, and it was surprisingly succinct: you continue gaining Skill Points for each “level” you gain past 80. Moreover, you can spend said Skill Points in a variety of ways (you likely will have purchased all the character Skills long before this point) including transmuting mats and… more cosmetic gear. I do not find cosmetic rewards in of themselves particularly compelling, but at least you gain something for sidekicking with your friend’s alt or whatever. Not that you always need a reason beyond their company, but let’s face it, it is better for everyone involved that it is incentivized at least in some small way.

That said, I have a big problem with the argument that the vast majority of WoW players do not see an endgame, and thus GW2’s lack of one is no big deal. Yes, raiding is only experienced by ~20% of the playerbase (although LFR undoubtedly changed all that). However, an order of magnitude more players run dungeons as an endgame activity, satisfying the urge of character progression via Justice/Valor Point purchases. Nevermind farming Honor in random BGs. Ostensively both activities exist in GW2 as well – although there are what, 3 BGs (all Conquest) and 8 dungeons? – but running, say, dungeons over again is going to be the equivalent of WoW’s upcoming Challenge Modes. Does anyone thing this is going to be a long-term retention solution?

By the way, I find the “everyone just rolls alts” rationale amusing considering it cedes the progression point. Gaining levels and better gear is fun, and that is exactly why designers try and transplant that same feeling into the endgame via incremental gear upgrades.

In any case, those are my Guild Wars 2 predictions ten days before the headstart launch. Like I mentioned before, and hopefully you have understood by the title of the post, I am not necessarily predicting GW2’s failure or poor retention or whatever else. It could very well be that the game is a smashing success, breaks the 7th Seal, and ushers us into a dawning Age of eternal bliss. If it does so, it will be in spite of Dynamic Events, WvW, and its endgame, not because of them.

I could be wrong; it has happened before. We’ll just have to see in the next 1/3/6/12 months.